Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
Of the Light within us
By Robert South (16341716)
From Sermons preached upon Several Occasions
I KNOW there are many more irregular and corrupt affections belonging to the mind of man, and all of them in their degree apt to darken and obscure the light of conscience. Such as are wrath and revenge, envy and malice, fear and despair, with many such others, even too many a great deal to be crowded into one hours discourse. But the three fore-mentioned (which we have been treating of) are, doubtless, the most predominant, the most potent in their influence, and most pernicious in their effect; as answering to those three principal objects which, of all others, do the most absolutely command and domineer over the desires of men: to wit, the pleasures of the world working upon their sensuality; the profits of the world upon their covetousness; and lastly, the honours of it upon their ambition. Which three powerful incentives, meeting with these three violent affections, are, as it were, the great trident in the tempters hand, by which he strikes through the very hearts and souls of men; or as a mighty threefold cord, by which he first hampers, and then draws the whole world after him, and that with such a rapid swing, such an irresistible fascination upon the understandings, as well as appetites of men, that, as God said heretofore, Let there be light, and there was light; so this proud rival of his Creator, and overturner of the creation, is still saying, in defiance of him, Let there be darkness, and accordingly there is darkness; darkness upon the mind and reason; darkness upon the judgment and conscience of all mankind. So that hell itself seems to be nothing else, but the devils finishing this his great work, and the consummation of that darkness in another world, which he had so fatally begun in this.
And now, to sum up briefly the foregoing particulars; you have heard of what vast and infinite moment it is, to have a clear, impartial, and right judging conscience; such an one as a man may reckon himself safe in the directions of, as of a guide that will always tell him truth, and truth with authority: and that the eye of conscience may be always thus quick and lively, let constant use be sure to keep it constantly open; and thereby ready and prepared to admit and let in those heavenly beams, which are always streaming forth from God upon minds fitted to receive them.
And to this purpose, let a man fly from every thing which may leave either a foulness or a bias upon it; for the first will blacken, and the other will distort it, and both be sure to darken it. Particularly let him dread every gross act of sin; for one great stab may as certainly and speedily destroy life as forty lesser wounds. Let him also carry a jealous eye over every growing habit of sin; for custom is an overmatch to nature, and seldom conquered by grace; and, above all, let him keep aloof from all commerce or fellowship with any vicious and base affection; especially from all sensuality, which is not only the dirt, but the black dirt, which the devil throws upon the souls of men; accordingly let him keep himself untouched with the hellish, unhallowed heats of lust, and the noisome steams and exhalations of intemperance, which never fail to leave a brutish dulness and infatuation behind them. Likewise, let him bear himself above that sordid and low thing, that utter contradiction to all greatness of mind, covetousness; let him disenslave himself from the pelf of the world, from that amor sceleratus habendi; for all love has something of blindness attending it; but the love of money especially. And lastly, let him learn so to look upon the honours, the pomp, and greatness of the world, as to look through them too. Fools indeed are apt to be blown up by them, and to sacrifice all for them; sometimes venturing their very heads, only to get a feather in their caps. But wise men, instead of looking above them, choose rather to look about them and within them, and by so doing keep their eyes always in their heads; and maintain a noble clearness in one, and steadiness in the other. These, I say, are some of those ways and methods by which this great and internal light, the judging faculty of conscience, may be preserved in its native vigour and quickness. And to complete the foregoing directions by the addition of one word more; that we may the more surely prevent our affections from working too much upon our judgment, let us wisely beware of all such things as may work too strongly upon our affections.
If the light that is in thee be darkness, says our Saviour, how great must that darkness needs be! That is, how fatal, how destructive! And therefore I shall close up all with those other words of our Saviour, John xii. While you have the light, walk in the light: so that the way to have it, we see, is to walk in it; that is, by the actions of a pious, innocent, well-governed life, to cherish, heighten, and improve it; for still, so much innocence, so much light; and on the other side, to abhor and loathe whatsoever may any ways discourage and eclipse it; as every degree of vice assuredly will. And thus by continually feeding and trimming our lamps, we shall find that this blessed light within us will grow every day stronger and stronger, and flame out brighter and brighter, till at length, having led us through this vale of darkness and mortality, it shall bring us to those happy mansions where there is light and life for evermore.